Cultivating Weeds: The Place of Solitude in the Political Philosophies of Ibn Bājja and Nietzsche

Philosophy East and West 70 (3):699-739 (2020)
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This article re-exams the old tension between the philosopher and the city. Reading Ibn Bājja’s Governance of the Solitary and Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra against the background of Plato’s Republic, I argue that they both embrace several key aspects of Platonic political philosophy: the assumption that philosophical natures can grow spontaneously in sick cities, the ideal of the philosopher legislator and the correlative project of founding a virtuous new regime. Yet in preparation for this final task, each prescribes a regimen of solitude for philosophers, so that they might preserve their own health and autonomy. While this spiritual exercise at first appears merely temporary and provisional—aimed at the cultivation of a philosopher ruler and the eventual establishment of a healthy political regime —I argue that both Ibn Bājja and Zarathustra ultimately abandon their Platonic ambitions and opt instead for the apolitical contemplative life.
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